Words and images by Ryan Hutchins
Two hundred-year-old trees decorated with Spanish moss grace the lush landscape leading down to the crystal clear, ambient water. Adults and children shrill and scream as they walk down the concrete steps to the chilly water that awaits them.
Friendly campers ride their bikes down to the spring for a lazy day in the water. Creatures of many kinds roam this state park, from bear and bobcats to the tiny blue crabs in the clear spring water.
Orlando native Arielle Bloom believes Salt Springs showcases a different side of Florida.
“When I look at this place I just wonder how it’s in Florida. It’s so tucked away and neat,” said Bloom.
Located within the Ocala National Forest, Salt Springs State Park features an active spring that contains four boils into which visitors can swim. The deepest of the four is 36 feet from the water’s surface to the spring bottom.
The springs get their name because of the presence of potassium, magnesium and sodium salts in the water. This gives the water a slight salinity.
Of course Salt Springs isn’t the only springs in the state. Florida actually has more springs than any other state — even more than some countries.
Their presence here is due to Florida’s geologic makeup, which consists of porous layers of marine limestone. Here water can easily bubble up from the aquifer through the limestone to form the turquoise-blue waters that characterize this state’s springs.
Visitors who choose to come to the Salt Springs have many recreational options as the park is open from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening every day. Guests who choose to just visit the springs can pay a $6 admission fee.
Although no boats are allowed within the spring itself, Salt Springs connects with an estuary that leads to the St. Johns River. Visitors can choose to bring their boat to venture off into the estuary and nearby river via an accessible boat.
Guests can also camp on the recreational side of the park in tents or recreational vehicles. There are full hook-ups for the RVs and trailers with water, sewage and electricity for $29 a night.
Primitive camping is also available at a $20.50 nightly rate.
There is also a campground on the other side of the road, Elite Resorts, which is owned and operated by private ownership not affiliated with Salt Springs.
Not only do visitors to Salt Springs get to sample the crystalline water, they can also usually catch sights of the area’s wildlife. But many of the creatures don’t come around until nightfall occurs at the springs.
“The animals have actually learned that when we leave for the day, that’s the time to come and feed,” said Cassie Henderson, one of the managers with American Land & Leisure, the park’s concessionaire.
Henderson said park officials learned that the hard way.
“One time we were doing a tour of the springs at night and we came across a cottonmouth. We have to explain to guests that this is why we close at 8, because we are in these animals’ habitat.”
Salt Springs is preparing to get busy.
Spring and summer tend to be the busiest times of the year, as the weather is most suitable for swimming in the springs, which are 72 degrees year round. Henderson says the weekends are a popular time for families.
Henderson’s husband, Ray, also a manager with American Land & Leisure, likes to amuse the children by fascinating them with things they’ve never seen before.
“I like to dive down to the bottom and just grab some sand and show it to the kids,” he explained. “They think it’s so cool to see and touch something from the bottom of the springs.”
Although visitors love to come and swim in the springs, many also come to snorkel. Some guests even take it a little further and swim with their video cameras, such as waterproof GoPros.
Bloom absolutely loved her visit to the springs.
“I came here with some friends to swim in the spring and maybe see some fish,” Bloom said. “Getting to see a big blue crab up close was really cool.”